College Basketball Nation: Ekpe Udoh

Golden State Warriors going back to school

July, 13, 2011
7/13/11
8:55
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Ekpe Udoh is not unlike the average college student, as the former Baylor star who returned to the classroom after a long layoff recently had this to tweet:
I hate when the teacher calls on me and I'm zoned out. Get it together ekpe geeesh

What makes the 6-foot-10 Udoh's presence on campus unique is that he is an NBA player, one of many who are looking to go back to school to work toward their degrees during the lockout.

Udoh, who led Baylor to an Elite Eight appearance in 2010, isn't even the only former NCAA tournament hero-turned first-round draft pick on his own Golden State Warriors team to look toward using the free time to attend classes.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Stephen Curry is making plans to re-enroll at Davidson, where he was the all-time leading scorer and led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 2008.
Curry needs five classes to complete his undergraduate studies in sociology. If the lockout goes past the start of training camp, he'll enroll in four of those classes -- leaving only his thesis paper to complete the degree.

Curry is still trying to figure out if he'll be allowed to attend practices and advise his old college squad. He already knows the attention on him at the small North Carolina campus will be intense.

An education is an important thing in Udoh's family, so getting his degree is something he wants to achieve. According to Baylor's website, while working out in Waco, he is also on pace to graduate at the end of the summer and dealing with the transition as a student as best he can.
"It's been terrible," said Udoh, who's back in the classroom to finish up his last 14 hours for his undergraduate degree at Baylor. "I've been trying to get back adjusted to waking up at 7 o'clock, trying to get breakfast and then going to class. There's just a lot of information. Anatomy is the toughest class I have. At first, I was kind of scared of it. But now I'm starting to embrace it. It's kind of fun."

Baylor gets J'Mison Morgan this fall

September, 13, 2010
9/13/10
11:37
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Usually, by the time mid-September rolls around, college basketball lineups are set. Sure, there are a few eligibility concerns to be dealt with here and there (apparently, someone named Enes Kanter is still trying to get eligible; have you guys heard about that?). But for the most part, it's rare to get this close to Midnight Madness and still see roster situations in flux.

Which is why Baylor's enthusiastic Monday morning news announcement comes as a major surprise. That announcement? UCLA transfer J'Mison Morgan was granted his waiver transfer request by the NCAA and will be eligible to play for the Bears in 2010-11, pending his completion of the necessary NCAA paperwork. Usually, transfers sit out for a year and return to their new teams the season after their transfer, but not this time. Morgan will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Baylor fans have to be awfully happy about that, but the real boon is for the coming year. Baylor lost forward Ekpe Udoh, its best interior player from 2009-10's Elite Eight team, to the NBA draft lottery in June. Morgan isn't a must-have for Baylor -- with the return of center Quincy Acy and the introduction of uber-recruit Perry Jones, Baylor's frontcourt was already going to remain formidable. But the 6-foot-10 Morgan is undeniably talented (he was the No. 4-rated forward in the class of 2008) and does have some college basketball experience, despite his limited production under coach Ben Howland at UCLA. If anything, he's an insurance policy, the type of player that can fill in for Jones if the highly rated freshman needs time to figure out the college game.

Of course, Morgan himself is a risk. He was dismissed by Howland in March after another disappointing, injury-riddled season. Among other presumed slights, Morgan was suspended early in the year for missing a team meeting, and he also didn't play in the Pac-10 tournament. In his two-year career, he's averaged 2.1 points and 1.1 rebounds. Needless to say, he has not been productive.

Still, the Bears don't need Morgan to be brilliant. They already have some very good frontcourt players, and plenty of scoring at the guard position in player of the year candidate LaceDarius Dunn. They just need Morgan to show up. Thanks to the NCAA's waiver, he'll do that even sooner than expected.

The Bears were already looking like an Elite Eight team. With Morgan on board, they assume more risk -- but if things work out, the payoff will be well worth it.

Summer Buzz: Baylor Bears

July, 23, 2010
7/23/10
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For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject: Baylor Insider . Up next? Michigan State.

The Baylor Bears were not a great defensive team in 2009-10. This was less obvious than it sounds.

When you watched the Bears play, it seemed like they were everywhere. Ekpe Udoh and Quincy Acy prowled the paint, Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn roamed the perimeter, and the net effect was a team fast and athletic enough to give anyone fits.

A closer look at Baylor's efficiency numbers, though, reveals a team that was far more adept at scoring than stopping. The Bears were, in fact, a team with a potent offense and a merely OK defense. Baylor ranked No. 3 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 34 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Baylor was good at preventing good looks -- they were ranked No. 20 in the country in opponents' effective field goal percentage -- but failed to keep opponents off the glass and didn't force nearly as many turnovers as you'd expect.

Entering the NCAA tournament, I sheepishly predicted that if Baylor met Duke in the Elite Eight, the Bears' interior athleticism would be too much for the more ground-bound Dukies. Naturally, I was wrong. Baylor ended up being just as soft on the defensive end as their numbers suggested. The lesson, as always: Never doubt the numbers. The numbers do not like to be doubted.

What does this mean for the 2010-11 Bears? It means Perry Jones has to be as good as advertised, and maybe better.

Replacing the talented Udoh after his No. 6 overall selection in the 2010 NBA draft won't be easy. That task will fall on Jones, the No. 3 overall power forward in the class of 2010. Jones is an athletic and versatile 6-foot-11 forward who, according to our ESPNU recruiting service Insider, "has off the charts talent and skill." Sounds great, right? The only problem: Jones' "production is no where close to what it should be." Gulp.

The rest of Baylor's stars are easier to read: Dunn will still be a ruthlessly effective shooting guard, Acy will still be a skilled scorer with an elite offensive rating (the best in the Big 12 at 125.0) and should see even more of the ball with Udoh and center Josh Lomers out of the picture. Baylor will still score in bunches. That much is clear.

What's missing here is what was missing from Baylor's 2009 team: defense. The key, then, is Jones. If the first-year player is good enough to affect the defensive interior -- to at least marginally shore up his team's own glass, and to prevent good looks in the post -- Baylor could be even more dangerous in 2010. At this point, given what we know about Jones' skills, that's a possibility.

But it's far from a certainty. Which means the 2010-11 Baylor Bears could be very similar to the 2009-10 version. Considering where Baylor was at the start of the decade, that's still awfully impressive.

Morgan the next Udoh for Baylor?

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
3:58
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Baylor today announced the addition of former UCLA center J'mison Morgan to its roster, hoping to strike gold once again with a big man transfer.

Morgan didn't live up to the hype at UCLA and didn't play many minutes before being dismissed from the team this offseason, but the Bears are hopeful the talent he showed in high school will show up.

"His size, strength and shot-blocking ability will fit into our system nicely," Baylor coach Scott Drew said.

Morgan at 6-foot-10 is the same height as Ekpe Udoh, who also transferred with two years to play and only needed one to get to the Elite Eight and put himself in position to be an NBA draft pick.

The difference, however, is Udoh flashed plenty of potential while already at Michigan while Morgan has battled injuries, been suspended and failed to impress on the court as well.

There's been a few strikes against Morgan, who didn't fit in with Ben Howland's defensive standards, but that doesn't mean it's too late for him to contribute.

He'll now be sitting out year and hoping to find a more comfortable situation close to home.

Final: Duke 78, Baylor 71

March, 28, 2010
3/28/10
7:21
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HOUSTON -- Some quick thoughts from a great South Regional final where Duke beat Baylor 78-71. I think that makes this tourney 4-for-4 in entertaining Elite Eight games.

  • Absolutely great game here. Anyone who thought these teams didn't belong in the Elite Eight has been proven wrong. Both teams played with intensity on either ends of the floor from the opening tip. The defensive pressure brought by both teams was impressive. Every bucket was hard earned.
  • The crowd, egged on by a jumping-jack Scott Drew, was sensational. As loud and intense as it was in Detroit last year for Michigan State.
  • That long-awaited return to the Final Four is finally over for Duke. No more "since" questions for Mike Krzyzewski, no more "what's wrong" questions for this senior class. The Devils are back for the first time since (one last time on the since) 2004 and the team most vilified for its No. 1 seed will be the only No. 1 seed in Indianapolis.
  • Of the big three, Nolan Smith might be the least talked about, but he shouldn't be after today. With Kyle Singler unable to buy a bucket and Jon Scheyer hot and cold, Smith was magnificent from the start of the game. He was the only guy fast enough to blow by Baylor's guards. He finished with 29 points and almost single handedly put the Devils back in the Final Four.
  • Other than Smith, the difference in this game was the same as it's been all year for Duke -- defense and rebounding. The Blue Devils made the Bears work for every basket and then outworked them on the boards. Duke had 41 rebounds to Baylor's 33, but more importantly, pulled down 22 off the offensive glass. Every one extended the possession, giving the Devils second shot after second shot.
  • Singler was 0-for-10 from the field. And Duke won. Think about that.
  • Ekpe Udoh just made himself a bunch of money. The Baylor big man was terrific and there was nothing anyone in a Duke uniform could do about it. He finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five blocks.
  • Credit absolutely has to be given to Baylor here. In a year of Cinderella, no one's story is maybe more improbable than the Bears'. They were a program in shambles seven years ago, unable to play a full conference slate five years ago, but finished today on the precipice of the Final Four.

Baylor 35, Duke 32 at the half

March, 28, 2010
3/28/10
6:01
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BaylorAP Photo/David J. PhillipQuincy Acy came off the bench to score eight points for the Bears in the first half.
HOUSTON -- Some quick thoughts from a high-energy game in front of a highly-energized crowd here at Reliant Stadium:

  • The crowd advantage does matter. This place is green and it's LOUD. In the last five minutes of the half, Duke looked completely rattled. Remember, these Blue Devils have never played for a chance at the Final Four. The name on the jersey doesn't mean diddly in this building.
  • Baylor's athleticism is showing up all over the court. The Bears are much better in transition (7-0 edge in fast-break points) and the explosiveness of Ekpe Udoh and Quincy Acy is something Duke simply can't match. The big men have 12 combined points for Baylor, and the Bears are dominating Duke inside, with 20 points in the paint.
  • And forget about Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn. No one in a Duke uniform can match them. The guards have been sensational and forcing tempo and upping the freneticism for Baylor. Carter has 10 and Dunn 13.
  • Brian Zoubek's three fouls hurt but aren't a killer. The 7-footer looks extremely frustrated and hasn't really been effective in this game in the face of guys as big as him but more athletic. The Plumlee brothers have given the Devils critical minutes here, and with their skill set, might be a better option anyway.
  • Duke isn't going to win with Kyle Singler going scoreless. The junior is 0-for-6 from the floor, saddled in part by foul trouble. Take Nolan Smith out of the equation and the Blue Devils are 7-of-19. They can't win that way.

South Region: Duke-Baylor preview

March, 28, 2010
3/28/10
11:10
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HOUSTON -- A quick look to the Elite Eight matchup in the South Region, where the last Final Four ticket will be awarded:

Key to the game: The battle on the boards just might decide who goes to the Final Four. Between Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas, the Plumlee brothers, Ekpe Udoh and Josh Lomers, there’s more than enough heft in the post to make things interesting.

In its first three games of this NCAA tournament, Duke is outrebounding its opponents by an average of 14.3 boards per game. That not only leads to easy putbacks, but it extends Duke’s possessions. Never was that more important than against slow-down Purdue, when the Blue Devils topped the Boilers by 21 on the backboards.

Baylor, meanwhile, is up eight boards per game on opponents and really took it to Omar Samhan and Saint Mary’s in the Sweet 16. The Bears topped the Gaels by 12 on the boards, but it was their 14 offensive rebounds that really made the difference.

“We can’t jump with them,’’ Thomas said. “We’re going to have to put bodies on them and let them know it’s going to be a game for 40 minutes.’’

Player to watch: Kyle Singler. He has been the difference maker for the Blue Devils, especially as Jon Scheyer has struggled in this NCAA tournament (just 6-for-26 from the arc). Singler is 13-for-22 outside of the paint, while his teammates are only 19-of-58. He’s also drained eight 3-pointers, and against Baylor’s zone, his ability or inability to get off a good shot will drastically affect Duke’s chances.

“I don’t know if he’s an X factor, but he’s probably an A, B, C, D, E, F, G factor,’’ Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Singler is one of the best players in the nation for a reason. He’s tremendous. He’s been playing great basketball and he’s a great player.’

Who has the edge: It’s open season on No. 1 seeds (perhaps West Virginia feels less unhappy about the perceived slight now?), and I think Duke might just fall into the heap as well. I expect a close game and a well-played matchup, but I’m not sure that the Blue Devils have what it takes to counter the athleticism of the Bears’ guards. If LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter can shoot it, I think Baylor makes its first Final Four since 1950.
Tweety CarterRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesTweety Carter and Baylor breezed past Saint Mary's and into the Elite Eight.
HOUSTON -- The picture shows the Baylor team huddled up at midcourt and just two words appear above the photo:

We’re Special.

The makeshift fliers hung everywhere inside the Bears’ locker room, taped to the doors, the walls, above lockers and on lockers.

“It’s something we did as players,’’ Quincy Acy said. “We just feel like there’s something special going on here. You can feel it. I don’t know how to describe it but you can feel it.’’

You could certainly see it on Friday night. The Bears put a hurting on Saint Mary’s usually reserved for a 1-16 first-round game, a 72-49 win that, believe it or not, wasn’t even that close.

The Gaels could do absolutely nothing against the Baylor zone -- the usually high-scoring, good-shooting team hit only 6 of 22 3-pointers and shot an anemic 35 percent from the floor -- and was equally helpless to stop Baylor.

LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter looked like they were on rollerskates as they blew by the flat-footed Gaels. Dunn finished with 23 points and Carter 14, reinventing athletic ways to score with each trip down the court.

Baylor makes its first appearance in the Elite Eight against either Duke or Purdue on Sunday.

“The best part was just seeing the excitement on all of the players’ faces,’’ Scott Drew said. “All that hard work finally paying off for them.’’

No one in the Baylor locker room would bite on the idea that they were interested in quieting the ever-yapping mouth that is Omar Samhan. They just wanted to play their game, didn’t think about it -- all of the perfect clichés. But the fact remains that Samhan, stuffed and crushed by Ekpe Udoh and Josh Lomers, finished with the most inconsequential 15 points ever recorded in a basketball game. He needed 17 shots to score those 15 points and struggled to get anything by Udoh and Lomers.

“No, we didn’t even talk about that at all,’’ Lomers said with a slight smile. “Just play our game.’’

Samhan may have taken over the spotlight this week, but the Bears have long been hanging in the shadows.

Picked to finish 10th in the Big 12, even as they started to put together good wins, the Bears were overshadowed by Kansas’ success, Texas’ failures and Kansas State’s surprising turnaround.

Now the Bears will have to guard against an unfamiliar foe -- success. Baylor’s thumping of Saint Mary’s ought to come packaged with game tapes from Syracuse. The Orange dismissed the Gaels’ West Coast Conference foe, Gonzaga, with ease, playing so well it seemed effortless. With or without Arinze Onuaku, Syracuse looked like a Final Four team.

And then the Orange got squished by Butler.

Baylor players said on Thursday they were in town for a business trip. They’ll need to keep their tie and their heads straight for Sunday’s Elite Eight game.

“We’re not done yet, we know that,’’ Acy said. “We haven’t won anything yet.’’

But they are awfully close to doing something no one could have expected. Never much of a player on the national scene to begin with, the program was written off after the 2003 tragedy/scandal involving Patrick Dennehy and Dave Bliss.

Now the Bears are 40 minutes from the Final Four.

“Forty minutes from the Final Four? In a word? Fantastic! Ecstatic! I don’t know if I can do that,’’ Udoh said.

How about special?

Final: Baylor 72, Saint Mary's 49

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
9:21
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HOUSTON -- Wrapping up a 72-49 Sweet 16 game that was never a game here at Reliant Stadium. Baylor moves on to its first Elite Eight since the tournament expanded (Baylor played in and lost the national title game in 1948), and a program decimated only seven years ago will play for a Final Four berth with a serious home-court advantage. It was every bit as green and loud in here as it was for Michigan State at last year's Final Four in Detroit.

Whoever the Bears face -- either Purdue or Duke -- will have its hands full. Here's why:

  • Baylor is every bit as good inside as it is out. It's hard to judge from the rout of Saint Mary's since the Bears were so much more athletic and talented, but the fact is the Tweety Carter-LaceDarius Dunn combo in the backcourt can dominate and so can the Ekpe Udoh-Quincy Acy-Josh Lomers triple threat inside. Mix in the way the Bears play defense with their zone and there's a very good reason why Baylor is in the Elite Eight.
  • The only worry the Bears have right now is falling into the Syracuse trap. Remember, the Orange absolutely pasted Gonzaga in the second round and fell apart against Butler on Thursday night. Baylor can't afford to put a whole lot of stock in this win. The Bears played near flawless basketball, but the caveat is the opponent wasn't exactly up to snuff either. I'd suggest not even watching the tape.
  • You have to feel for Omar Samhan and the Gaels. The quotable senior ends his collegiate career humbled and silenced. He had 15 points but they were all but inconsequential in this rout. Samhan was exposed against the much stronger and tougher Baylor big men.

HOUSTON -- Some quick thoughts from a halftime beatdown that resembles a CYO versus NBA All-Star game.

Yes, that's the correct score. No, it is not a typo. Yes, it is that bad.

  • The word mismatch does not adequately describe what's happening here. Baylor is stronger, tougher and more athletic at every single position. Saint Mary's has no one who can penetrate the Baylor zone, no one who can contain LaceDarius Dunn or Tweety Carter, no one who can match up with Ekpe Udoh.
  • The Gaels, who said they played against zones all year, look like they've never seen one before in their lives. They are 2-of-12 from behind the arc, have no idea how to get the ball inside and have spent more time standing around than moving.
  • Omar Samhan has gone from potential NBA player to a guy in need of a stand-up routine. The big man has two points and cannot get his shot off against the Baylor bigs. He's 1-of-8 from the floor.
  • Meantime anyone who thought the Baylor to the Final Four pick was just trendy, please consult the score. Dunn and Carter have 27 points combined and have done things with the basketball that the St. Mary's players couldn't do with a ladder. Mix in a 25-15 rebounding edge against a team that has just as much size, six 3-pointers and just two turnovers and what's not to like?
HOUSTON -- Here’s a quick look ahead at the Sweet 16 matchups in tonight’s South Region:

Baylor vs. Saint Mary’s

Key to the game: Overlooked in the Omar Samhan frenzy is the fact that the Gaels are one of the best shooting teams in the country. They set a school record with 270 3-pointers this season and connected on 41 percent from beyond the arc. Saint Mary’s will need all of that and more against a Baylor zone that, with Ekpe Udoh in the middle, is both long and active.

“Our defense changes as far as our zone," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We’ll always tweak it and adjust it to the team we’re playing and what they like to do. I know with Saint Mary’s, they have an inside and outside attack. We’ll have to make sure that we keep them on their toes and try to keep them guessing and not let them get in a rhythm.’’

Player to watch: LaceDarius Dunn. The most highly recruited player to choose Baylor when he signed three years ago, Dunn has more than lived up to the billing. A gifted athlete who can shoot 3s, beat you off the bounce and is one of the best finishers in the game, Dunn is averaging 19.4 points per game. Only five teams have been able to hold him under double digits in scoring all year and frankly, Saint Mary’s doesn’t have anyone in the backcourt to keep up with him.

“Dunn is one of those guys you might do a great job on defending him and he still might score," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. “We’ve watched enough film on him. We know he’s a tough match-up for anybody."

Who has the edge: Considering how well the Gaels did against Villanova it’s hard to say they’ll have a tough time because of the backcourt of Baylor. But here’s the twist: The Bears have a much better frontcourt than the Wildcats. Ekpe Udoh, the Michigan transfer, and Quincy Acy add length to that zone but also offer inside/low post scoring.

Mix in what will essentially be a homecourt for Baylor -- Waco is just a three-hour drive and many alums call the Houston area home -- and the Saint Mary’s magic runs out.

Duke vs. Purdue

Key to the game: Purdue has had trouble scoring since Robbie Hummel went down with his knee injury, but the real problem in this game for the Boilermakers is going to be rebounding. If Purdue can hold its own on the boards, the Boilers’ improbable run can continue. If they can’t, it could be like last year all over again when the Blue Devils crushed Purdue on the boards, 44-26, in a 16-point rout in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

“At times with this team, when we’ve won against teams that are bigger than us, it doesn’t come down to always about with that size,’’ Matt Painter said. “It comes down to chasing down rebounds and being quicker to the basketball. That’s what we’re going to have to do to be successful against them.’’

Player to watch: Jon Scheyer. The guard is coming off a horrible shooting night against Cal, 1-of-11 from the floor, 1-of-8 from the arc. Mike Krzyzewski talked to him after the game, reminding Scheyer to relax and just play his game. If he starts shooting it well early, Purdue could be in trouble quickly.

“He doesn’t shoot the same shot all the time and that means you’re thinking about different things,’’ Krzyzewski said. “Jon wants it so badly. I came in here and heard his answer, ‘I knew we were playing great defense and if I hit that shot, we could break it open.’ So that’s not the reason you take that shot. You should take your shot because it’s open and you shoot it. So he’s putting more on it.’’

Who has the edge: Duke hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2004, not much of a drought for most programs in this country but Duke isn’t most programs. The Blue Devils are well aware of the drought and the doubting Thomases flocking around their program. But it’s not just the desire to prove people wrong that gives Duke the edge. The Blue Devils are one of the better defensive teams in the country, holding teams to just 48.5 points in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. For a team like Purdue that has been struggling to score since losing Robbie Hummel, that’s not good news.

Saint Mary's Samhan is somewhat quotable

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
10:30
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MORAGA, Calif. -- Trash-talking Saint Mary's star center Omar Samhan has been the media darling of this NCAA tournament, and the range of his charisma was on display during today's media session at McKeon Pavilion.

Here's a sampling of some of Samhan's statements from today before the Gaels take on Baylor in the Sweet 16:

On how he ended up at Saint Mary's ...

"I was a McDonald's All-American coming out ... I was waiting for you to laugh, and you didn’t."

On being matched against Baylor's Ekpe Udoh ...

"He can jump, and I can't. He's fast, and I'm not. He's strong, and I'm not. Although I’ll have trouble guarding him, he’ll have trouble guarding me."

On those who doubt Saint Mary's ...

"Even if we win the national championship, they'll say it was a weak field."

On rival Gonzaga's second-round loss to Syracuse ...

"I felt they quit toward the end. I was surprised they lost, but not too surprised."

On how the Australian players at Saint Mary's have brought a different mix to the team ...

"That and a bunch of bad-tasting food -- Vegemite."

On being a big man who likes to play on the post ...

"I think the paint's sexy."

On not liking his team being labeled Cinderella ...

"Cinderella implies we're lucky or it's a fairytale. Who do we have to beat for people to think this isn't a fluke?"

On being told he's the best center in the East Bay region near San Francisco (including the Golden State Warriors) ...

"That's not saying much, but thank you."

On having "BEAST" tattooed on the inside of his lower lip ...

"Everyone has tattoos on their arms. That's nothing. I got my mouth tatted."

And a video message for ESPN's Joe Lunardi ...

NEW ORLEANS -- It probably wasn’t a win befitting of a No. 3 seed.

Then again, with the way the lower seeds are pulling off upsets and the higher seeds are falling, who’s worrying about style points?

Not Baylor, which won its first NCAA tournament game in 60 years Thursday by pulling away from Sam Houston State in the final minutes for a 68-59 victory in New Orleans Arena.

“I think it’s more weight off anybody’s shoulders that’s a part of Baylor,” junior guard LaceDarius Dunn said. “But to come in and get this victory, it was awesome. We knew it had been a long time since they got one. But I think we did a great job of just coming in, and I guess, cutting the streak.”

Baylor's play was inconsistent and they looked pretty beatable for the first 37 minutes or so. But the Bears closed the game like a tournament-tested club.

"We call it Kobe time," Baylor junior forward Ekpe Udoh said. "So we just buckled down, stayed aggressive and pulled out the win."

Sam Houston State played a triangle-and-two defense against Baylor, and it took the Bears a while to adjust.

“We were shocked. We’d never faced anything like that,” Dunn said.

After taking 13 3-pointers in the first half, Baylor attempted just seven in the second half and scored 22 of its 38 points in the second half in the paint.

“Not many of us have been in this position, been to the tournament,” Udoh said. “I think it’s just three (players). So it’s good to finally get the first game out of the way.

“Now we can just stay aggressive.”

NEW ORLEANS -- As Baylor’s players left the locker room Thursday on their way to the playing floor at New Orleans Arena, several of them were playfully shouting, “Sam who?”

They know now after being taken to the final minutes by No. 14 seed Sam Houston State before pulling away and winning 68-59 in a first-round East Regional matchup.

The game was tied at 55-55 with just over three minutes to play, and Baylor’s A.J. Walton missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity. Sam Houston State was unable to capitalize and take the lead, and Baylor turned on the jets.

Quincy Acy had a dunk, and it was the LaceDarius Show from there. He scored the Bears’ next eight points, as the Bearkats kept firing away and missing from 3-point range.

Sam Houston State finished 6-of-31 from behind the arc. Senior guard Ashton Mitchell was just 1-of-11.

Baylor junior forward Ekpe Udoh showed just why some around the country consider him to be one of the most complete big men in college basketball. He finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals. He also had five of the Bears’ 14 turnovers.

The Bears also had their struggles from 3-point land, going just 5-of-20. Senior guard Tweety Carter had a season-low two points on 1-of-3 shooting.

Baylor will now face Old Dominion in Saturday’s second-round game.

Yesterday we covered the love/hate inherent in this year's NCAA tournament bracket. Let's do something different today. Let's make five bold predictions -- predictions so bold your face will melt, probably, which is itself a bold prediction -- about what we can expect these next three weeks. Disclaimer: Bold predictions made with every intention of sincerity. There's nothing worse than people who make crazy predictions simply for the sake of making crazy predictions, am I right? (In other words, I'm going out on a limb here, but I do actually think this stuff can happen.)

With that, let's get right to it. In the year 2010 ...

1. Kansas will lose to Lehigh. Ha! Got you guys! Just kidding. Deep breaths, Kansas fans. I'm not that bold. The real No. 1 is:

1. Texas A&M will make the Elite Eight. (Or: Duke won't make the Final Four.) Don't get me wrong. Duke has the easiest path to the Final Four of any of the No. 1 seeds. The Blue Devils are a very impressive team on the court and on paper -- they're Ken Pomeroy's top adjusted efficiency team in the country for a reason. Duke should make the Final Four. But if there is an upset candidate before No. 3-seed Baylor in the South region, it's Texas A&M. The Aggies are a strong defensive team, ranked No. 23 in adjusted efficiency. Mark Turgeon has a pair of experienced tournament players in Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis, both of whom have been to four NCAA tournaments. And the Aggies have the benefit of not relying on jump shooting to get themselves points. Rather, the Aggies rely on their ability to get to the free throw line, which they do at the sixth-highest rate in the country. This is the sort of offensive game plan that should serve them well against anybody, even Duke.

2. Temple will beat Cornell. Yes, counts as "bold." Since the East's No. 5/No. 12 matchup was announced, Cornell looked like the most likely candidate for the ever-popular (and logistically sound) 12-over-5 upset, one of which you should be picking in your bracket every season. In fact, this meme has crossed over into consensus. But guess what? Temple is no slouch. In fact, the Owls are pretty blatantly underseeded as a No. 5. Temple has flown as far under the radar as any team from a multi-bid league that won its own conference AND conference tournament possibly could. The Owls are No. 18 overall in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings, a mark that exists primarily thanks to their third-ranked overall defense, a unit that allows fewer points per possession than any team in the tournament not named Florida State. Temple is the best team in the country at containing shooters; Cornell just so happens to be the best three-point shooting team in the country and the third best in team effective field goal percentage.

All of which means one simple thing: Cornell got jobbed. Everyone loves the Big Red, for good reason. A No. 12 seed is remarkably low for the best Ivy League team we've seen in years. But thanks to their matchup, Cornell's stay in this NCAA tournament should prove awfully short. That this might be considered a piece of unconventional wisdom -- "bold," as it were -- is a signal of just how high most people rate the Big Red.

3. BYU will edge Kansas State. OK, so this part of the limb might be a little further out than I wanted to tread, but the more I think about it, the more I think it's entirely possible the Cougars can top Kansas State in the second round in Oklahoma City. This BYU team is much better than their No. 7 seed. For starters the Cougars are a potent offensive team with a bonafide star in Jimmer Fredette and an experienced sidekick in Jonathan Tavernari. To be sure, Kansas State will be something of a shock to the Cougars' system -- BYU hasn't played a team that defends quite as thoroughly as the Wildcats. Nor do most teams attempt to run with BYU's uptempo offense. The Wildcats, who average 71.1 possessions per game, will be more than happy to go up and down with BYU for 40 minutes. In an up-and-down game like that, either of these teams can get especially hot and pull away before the other has a chance to regroup. Why can't that team be the Cougars?

4. UTEP will play Syracuse in the Sweet 16. And just how will they do that? By beating Butler in the first round and the winner of Vanderbilt-Murray State in the second. UTEP, like its first-round counterparts, are probably a bit better than their resume, and their resume is good. What's more, they're a tough matchup for Butler, whose lack of front-court depth could really struggle with the likes of Derrick Caracter and center Arnett Moultrie. After that small matter of business is concluded, the Miners will face a relatively forgiving No. 4 seed in Vanderbilt, a team that actually ranks behind the Miners in adjusted efficiency. It's one of the easier roads for any No. 12 seed into the Sweet Sixteen, and I think UTEP forges it.

5. Baylor will make the Final Four. At this point, so many people are picking Baylor to go deep into this tournament that this prediction hardly seems bold. Oh, but it is: The Bears are not a great defensive team, and they'll have to get through Villanova and Duke (or Texas A&M!) to make this prediction worthwhile. This is not un-bold, no matter how many people claim otherwise.

Still, though, I think the Bears have just as good a chance as any team in the South to emerge and play in Indianapolis on the first weekend of April. LaceDarius Dunn remains one of the country's most underrated players. Ekpe Udoh's overwhelming physicality will present issues for any team the Bears face. Most importantly, the Bears have an easy route to the Elite Eight -- their toughest test would ostensibly come from Villanova, a team equally indifferent on the defensive side of the ball and a team that lacks the size to match up with Udoh in the post. The South could get crazy. I think it does. And I think the Bears emerge unscathed.

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